The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

A couple of thoughts on Al Ghad Radio

I wanted to post about the new Al Ghad radio, but after a busy day it seems Josh beat me to it. I think it's worth noting that the SMS many of us received also said that Al Ghad had applied for a FM broadcasting license, but I suppose was either denied it or never received an answer.

This is excellent news for freedom of speech in Egypt, and perhaps a landmark enough. But it is also a small step. I remember several years ago chatting with a journalist from Mali. I asked him about freedom of the press in his country. He said that basically there was much more freedom than in Egypt, notably with radio stations, with several hundred small ones around the country running independently. Perhaps that number is an exaggeration, but from what I understand there is still quite a number of free radio stations there. The conversation made me rather depressed, because not only in Egypt but most of the Arab world there are very, very few independent radio stations -- never mind TV stations.

An internet radio like Al Ghad's is a start, but it's still far off from what is really needed. The internet reaches only a small percentage of Egypt's population, and internet radio only potentially reaches those who can afford a DSL connection. These people are likely to be reading newspapers anyway. Regular -- i.e. terrestrial -- TV and radio stations are the most important to liberalize because even satellite stations, whose effect on political discourse in the Middle East have been much talked about, are really limited in a country where so many are poor and illiterate.

As I think I've noted before, there are now efforts to push for further media liberalization -- including by some personalities inside the establishment media. Al Ahram's Salama Ahmed Salama, for instance, has been lamenting the absence of discussion of the violence of referendum day by state media. Just a few days ago, he wrote that the silence of media and the state-run women's organizations was inexplicable:

Defending women and calling for their contribution to politics has become over the past few years a frequent issue in the media and national institutions… Yet unfortunately, the women that participated in the peaceful demonstrations and demanded democracy in front of the Journalists’ Syndicate were faced with heinous, shameful acts – acts committed by hired thugs who went as far as sexual molestation. I must confess that I had myself placed great hope in the National Council for Women [an organization founded by Suzanne Mubarak] ... It is rather strange: these voices that had previously been raised to defend women and promote their political rights were mute when it came to crying out against these incidents.

Other people have also criticized the main state-run papers for being so out of touch and cowardly when covering local news at a time of national political crisis (at least that's how many pundits are describing it). With the recent rumors that the head of the main newspapers would change (and counter-rumors that they would not, and that Gulf sheikhs came to Cairo to protect Al Ahram Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim Nafie's position with bribes -- an odd mirror image to reports that Egypt is threatening Qatari sheikhs in order to get Al Jazeera to tone its coverage down), the state media is clearly in some kind of turmoil.

Several opposition newspapers also reported that presenters on state TV were issued a directive last week, as Egyptian opposition movements called for a day of mourning and urged citizens to wear black, to wear bright colors, avoid any mention of the Kifaya movement, and smile a lot. TV and radio, therefore, has been even more out-of-touch with the burning political issues of the moment than the state newspapers, which at least mention these events in their crime pages. Imagine if you had an independent, and perhaps even activist, FM radio station that could spread the news that the independent press talks about, but with the immediacy of broadcasting.

And by the way, if you're not using Windows you can still listen to it: just copy this link, launch Windows Media Player for Mac (or for whatever you're using), and use the "Open URL" function. Paste the link into the dialog box and it should work. (It worked for me last night, but this morning there was nothing -- maybe they're offline on Friday mornings!)